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College Basketball Insider

College Basketball Conference Previews: Pac-12

Brandon Ashley (USATSI)
Arizona sophomore forward Brandon Ashley will have the Wildcats in the hunt for the Pac-12 title. (USATSI)

Oregon and UCLA will both be good, and Colorado, Arizona State, California and Stanford are all interesting for different reasons. But the class of the Pac-12, at least on paper, appears to be Arizona, and nevermind the significant roster turnover.

Sean Miller has recruited so well it doesn't really matter.

Here's a preview of the Pac-12:

Coach's Take

"The scary thing about what Sean [Miller] is doing [at Arizona] is that he's probably only going to be better, and he's already ahead of the rest of the league. He's got it rolling, and I don't think anything is going to slow him down."

Projected Order of Finish

Arizona

The Wildcats might still be a player away from really challenging for a national title, but they're close. And they're the obvious pick to win the Pac-12 in Sean Miller's fifth year in Tucson despite losing three of their top four scorers -- plus former five-star recruit Grant Jerrett -- from last season's 27-win team. Why, you ask? Because Arizona has the best NBA prospect (and arguably the best player in general) in Aaron Gordon, and two other experienced and talented bigs in Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. A backcourt of Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson is more than solid, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a natural wing who should make an immediate impact. And if he does -- and if McConnell is reliable at the point -- then perhaps Arizona will find itself at the Final Four in Texas.

Oregon

Will Houston transfer Joseph Young be eligible? Will UNLV transfer Mike Moser return to his All-American form from two years ago? Those are two questions that still do not have answers. But if the answers are "yes" and "yes" then the Ducks could be a legitimate Final Four threat. Either way, they'll still be good thanks to the backcourt duo of Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis. And, regardless of whether Moser produces like he produced two seasons ago, when he averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Rebels, there's little doubt that the Portland native will be better this season than he was last season considering he'll be healthy and playing his natural position, which is power forward. So you'd be wise to expect Dana Altman to win at least 12 Pac-12 games games for the third consecutive season and make the Field of 68 for the second time in as many years.

UCLA

Whereas his crosstown counterpart didn't inherit much at USC, Steve Alford walked into a nice situation at UCLA, one where he has six players who combined to start 110 games last season. The best prospect of the bunch is Kyle Anderson, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who is undeniably talented but still a bit of an enigma. Reasonable minds can differ on where and how to use Anderson on the court. So it'll be interesting to see what Alford does to utilize the New Jersey native's unique skillset. Either way, sophomore Jordan Adams will be asked to simply score like he's always scored, and I'm certain he'll do it and lead the Bruins to the NCAA tournament provided they get adequate point guard play from Anderson or whomever Alford identifies as the primary ball-handler, point being that the loss of Larry Drew II shouldn't be totally dismissed.

Colorado

The loss of Andre Roberson to the NBA Draft one year earlier than expected was an undeniable blow, though it's hard to blame the 6-foot-7 forward for jumping considering Minnesota selected him 26th overall. That development might've cost Colorado two spots in the Pac-12 standings. But the Buffaloes should still be good considering every other relevant player (besides Sabatino Chen) is back from a 21-win team -- including junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie, an All-American candidate who averaged 15.3 points per game last season and has started every contest in his two-year college career. Dinwiddie's partner in the backcourt is classmate Askia Booker. He averaged 12.4 points per game last season and will be among the reasons Tad Boyle spends March in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year.

Arizona State

Herb Sendek, with the help of associate head coach Eric Musselman, rebranded himself last season, took advantage of the presence of Jahii Carson, played faster and nearly made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. Ultimately, the Sun Devils fell just short. But there's enough back this season -- most notably Carson, an electric playmaker who averaged 18.5 points per game last season -- to make another run at the Field of 68 despite the transfer of Evan Gordon to Indiana and loss of Carrick Felix to the NBA Draft.

California

Let me go ahead and say this before you say it for me: If freshman wing Jabari Bird, a five-star prospect, is really good right from the start then there's a decent chance that this sixth-place projection for California is going to miss by at least two spots in the standings, and perhaps more. Because the only relevant player missing from last season's team that went 12-6 in the Pac-12 and made the NCAA tournament is Allen Crabbe, point being that all the other important parts are back and presumably better/stronger. The leading returning scorer, Justin Cobbs, suffered an offseason foot injury. So it's unclear how ready he'll be in November and December. Regardless, this is one of the nation's most interesting teams because the Bears will either prove they were more than a one-man outfit last season or fall back and enforce the idea that they might've been.

Stanford

Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir is on record essentially stating that unless Johnny Dawkins makes the NCAA tournament for the first time in his sixth season with the Cardinal then he probably won't get a seventh chance to do it. So the pressure is on. The good news is that the top four scorers -- all of whom averaged at least 30 minutes and nine points per game -- are back from a team that won nine Pac-12 contests, and that Arizona, UCLA Colorado and Arizona State were all somewhat diminished in the offseason by early entries to the NBA Draft and/or transfers. Put another way, there's an opportunity for this experienced group to breakthrough. And, again, according to the AD, they'd better. Or else.

Washington

Lorenzo Romar guided the Huskies to six NCAA tournament appearances in his first nine seasons, three of which resulted in trips to the Sweet 16. Things were good. But Washington will now, barring a surprise, miss the Field of 68 for the third straight year for the first time in more than a decade. So things aren't that good right now, which leads to an important question: Is Romar in any danger? The simple answer is no. At least not yet. But there's no denying that the program has slipped, and the heat will get hotter unless there's a noticeable shift upward either this season or next. The good news for Washington is that freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss is the type of prospect who could spark a turnaround.

USC

There is no doubt in my mind that Andy Enfield will make USC relevant on both the west coast and nationally. But he's going to need some time do that because the star of last season's NCAA tournament didn't inherit the type of roster necessary to compete at the high-major level -- although the enrollment and immediate eligibility of Maryland transfer Pe'Shon Howard will help. That said, the idea that Howard -- who averaged 3.3 points for an NIT team last season -- is expected to help should tell you everything you need to know about the lack of available talent. So this will almost certainly be a transitional year for the Trojans. But the future remains promising, and things will be better next season when UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt is eligible, and Class of 2014 standout Jordan McLaughlin enrolls.

Oregon State

Craig Robinson is 31-59 in Pac-12 contests through five seasons at Oregon State. He hasn't won more than seven league games since his second year. He's never won more than eight. So the Princeton graduate enters his sixth year very much on the so-called hot seat, and the fact that Eric Moreland -- a 6-foot-10 forward who nearly averaged a double-double last season -- is suspended for the first 14 games will make an already challenging situation even tougher than it would've otherwise been. Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Angus Brandt are all back after averaging double-figures last season. That's a decent core. But it's still hard to envision the Beavers finishing in the top half of the Pac-12. And, if they don't, it'll be interesting to see whether the OSU administration gives Robinson a seventh season or makes a change for the sake of change.

Utah

Larry Krystkowiak spent last season jumping Utah from six to 15 total wins and three to five Pac-12 wins. That's progress by definition. But how is the former NBA coach supposed to avoid a move in the wrong direction now that four starters are gone, including leading scorer Jarred DuBois? Answer: Krystkowiak won't. Sophomore Jordan Loveridge is a nice and proven piece who averaged 12.1 points per game last season. But he'll be surrounded by seven newcomers, and that's not a recipe for success for most places not called Kentucky.

Washington State

The Cougars are without two of their top four scorers -- namely Brock Motum and Mike Ladd -- from a team that only won four Pac-12 game last season, and the newcomers aren't the type of newcomers who are theoretically capable of launching Washington State from the bottom of this league. So what does that mean for Ken Bone? Probably not positive things. He's a good coach who earned a reputation as such during stops at Seattle Pacific and Portland State. But Bone hasn't really been able to get things going through four years at Washington State, and, unless that changes this season, his fifth year in the Pac-12 could be his last.

Our Preseason All-Pac-12 team

G: Jahii Carson, Arizona State
G: Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
G: Jordan Adams, UCLA
F: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
F: Dwight Powell, Stanford

Our Preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona

Arizona State's Jahii Carson could reasonably get this honor, and I wouldn't argue with anybody who went that way. He's terrific. But Gordon is the pick here because he'll be the best player on what will likely be the best team team, and I'll explain the rest below.

Our Preseason Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona

I'm not sure if Gordon is truly the next Blake Griffin. But he certainly gets called that a lot, and it's not difficult to see why. The high-flying forward averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, which was good enough for Gordon to earn MVP honors over USA Basketball teammates such as Marcus Smart, Montrezl Harrel, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jarnell Stokes and Jahlil Okafor.

Our Preseason Pac-12 Coach of the Year

Sean Miller, Arizona

Arizona neither initially targeted or wanted Miller when school officials were pursuing Lute Olson's permanent replacement, but the Pac-12 institution sure is lucky to have him. The 44-year-old product of a family of coaches has reestablished Arizona as this league's premier men's basketball program. Miller will make a Final Four soon, perhaps this season, and someday getting the school a second national championship is very much a possibility.

Three Numbers to Know

1: That's the number of times Sean Miller has won fewer than 10 league games in his nine seasons as a head coach at Xavier and Arizona. His Pac-12 record to date is 48-24.

7: That's the number of returning Pac-12 players who averaged at least 15 points per game last season. The seven players -- Jahii Carson, Roberto Nelson, C.J. Wilcox, Jordan Adams, Spencer Dinwiddie, Justin Cobbs and Dwight Powell -- play at seven different schools.

19: That's the number of winning seasons UCLA's Steve Alford has recorded in 22 years as a head coach. His last non-winning record was recorded in the 1999-2000 season, when he finished 14-16 in his first year at Iowa.

CBSSports.com Staff Pac-12 Predictions

Pac 12
Finish

Gary Parrish

Jeff Borzello

Matt Norlander

Doug Gottlieb

Jerry
Palm

Jon Rothstein
1.
ARIZ

ARIZ

ARIZ

ARIZ

ARIZ

ARIZ
2.
OREG

OREG

OREG

CAL

COLO

COLO
3.
UCLA

UCLA

ARIZST

UCLA

OREG

CAL
4.
COLO

COLO

UCLA

OREG

UCLA

OREG
5.
ARIZST

CAL

CAL

COLO

STNFRD

UCLA
6.
CAL

STNFRD

COLO

STNFRD

CAL

STNFRD
7.
STNFRD

ARIZST

OREGST

WASH

ARIZST

ARIZST
8.
WASH

WASH

USC

ARIZST

WASH

WASH
9.
USC

OREGST

STNFRD

USC

OREGST

OREGST
10.
OREGST

WASHST

WASH

OREGST

UTAH

WASHST
11.
UTAH

UTAH

UTAH

UTAH

USC

UTAH
12.
WASHSt

USC

WASHST

WASHST

WASHST

USC
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